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Senile Dementia

Dementia in the elderly is a common problem, and becoming more common as the proportion of elderly people in the population increases. In this disorder the brain ceases to function normally and the mind gradually deteriorates. This may be due to multi-infarct dementia, in which many small strokes due to hardened arteries affect brain function. Severe depression in an elderly person may be confused with dementia.

Although dementia is usually a disease of the elderly, rare forms of pre-senile dementia occur in younger people, some of which are hereditary. (Alzheimer's disease, an abnormal degeneration of the brain of unknown cause, usually arises between the ages of forty and sixty, causing loss of memory, often with hallucinations, and progresses within a few years to a helpless state for which no treatment is known.)

Symptoms

The early signs of dementia are a slight forgetfulness of recent events (for example, what was eaten at the previous meal). Frequently, however, forgetfulness is a normal accompaniment of ageing and does not necessarily mean that the person is becoming demented, so it is not always possible to make the diagnosis early in the course of the illness. As the disease progresses, other intellectual functions decline: as well as loss of memory there is a confusion, a loss of reasoning powers and an apathetic withdrawal from the real world. Sometimes the sufferer behaves in antisocial ways, and may even become violent.

Treatment

There is no cure for this condition, and treatment is mainly supportive. In the early stages it may be possible for a senile person to continue living at home if there is a companion or friends to help with daily tasks, and if help from the social services and other community services is available. Eventually the demented person will probably need the constant care that only the geriatric ward of a hospital can provide.

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